Email use is now nearly ubiquitous.

In the United States, more than 90% of adults age 15 to 64 use email, and rates are only slightly lower those over age 65.

That means any business or organization knows this is one reliable place to find their customers or followers. Convince those folks to provide their email address, and you have a direct and powerful way to keep in touch with your target audience.

A solid digital marketing service smoothly handles the all the technical tasks to ensure your email messages make it safely to your customers’ in-boxes. Automation features make it simple to contact them at regular intervals or key time points. But there’s a catch, of course. Research shows that open rates hover around 20 percent for both B2B and B2C emails. And there’s some evidence that might be declining.

So how do you make your emails stand out in your customers’ jam-packed in-boxes? How do you get them to click, read, and respond?

The bottom line: message matters. All the sophisticated technical tools and tricks to deliver your email won’t matter if you don’t catch the reader’s interest. You’ve got maybe a half a second or less to catch to do that—and then you have to deliver with content that engages and inspires them to act. So how do you craft a compelling message that earns clicks and keeps your customers subscribed?

Here are some tips:

  • Stand out with snappy subject lines.
    Keep them short and succinct. Research shows that a subject line with six to ten words yields the highest open rate. If you go longer, make sure the valuable information or benefit you’re offering is captured in the first few words. Get clever with puns, catchy wordplay, song titles, or movie quotes where appropriate. But note that Nielsen research shows emojis in the subject line don’t reel in clicks. Likewise, questions aren’t all that effective.Stick with strong, active verbs; make it a call to action when you can. Go ahead and be intriguing: a subject line that reads “Only 1.6 percent” makes a reader look twice at the sender and want to click to find out more.

    Make use of that handy but sometimes neglected feature, A/B testing, to experiment and see what works for your subscribers. As you collect response data, you may be able to further segment your audience and more precisely tailor messages based on what members liked and clicked on. No matter what style or verbal tricks you pick, make sure the underlying message delivers what the subject line promises. Nothing makes a customer hit “unsubscribe” faster than a misleading or deceptive message—except perhaps irrelevance.

  • Make it relevant.
    Any effective communication in any format starts with putting yourself in the mind of your audience. What do they want, need, or care about? Frame the information you want to share in that context, in their mindset, not yours. This is basic, but it’s surprising how many email appeals fail to do this.This is where really understanding and precisely segmenting your mailing list comes into play. Don’t send a back-to-school themed promotion to a customer who has never purchased items for school-aged children, for example.

    Adjust your mailing frequency to make sure you have something meaningful to convey in each message. We all want to keep ourselves in front of our customers and clients with frequent communications, but if you’re stretching to fill an aggressive marketing schedule with fluff and filler, you will quickly turn off your subscribers.

  • Keep it concise.
    Most marketers instinctively understand that they need to keep their sales pitches short and to the point. Other types of outreach, unfortunately, can grow past the point of interest. Who among us hasn’t received an appeal or, say, a letter from the CEO or president that rambled on beyond the point of interest? Your recipients are as busy as you are, and many are reading your epistles on a small screen on their mobile device. Respect their valuable time by getting to the point—and making it clear what you want them to know, believe, or do.
  • Write like a reporter.
    Traditionally journalists were trained to write in an inverted pyramid, with the biggest, most important facts and takeaways at the top, followed by progressively finer details. That still works, especially if you are sending a detailed message—such as announcing a change in services or processes, for example. If action is required, make that clear at the top. Not all the details have to be included in the email. If you effectively catch the recipient’s attention and show them how the information applies to them, you can convince them to click to get more information online when their schedule allows (but make the links to more information clear and prominent!)
  • Tell a story.
    Once upon a time … your parents or teachers kept you captivated by telling you stories. It still works, at any age. Stories are powerful, and that’s why we use testimonials in marketing. For maximum impact, distill your story to a few sharp sentences—and be sure it connects to your brand message and inspires action. Don’t forget, a picture tells a story too, so include a striking image.
  • Write like you speak.
    Reflecting the voice of your company or organizational brand is crucial. But it’s equally critical to avoid sterile corporate jargon. Tell your subscribers what you want them to know in clear, direct, personal, friendly language, as if you were speaking to them over coffee. After all, the point of marketing outreach is to make friends and build relationships.
  • Deploy the power of personalization with care.
    A few years ago, a personalized subject line could increase open rates by as much as 20 percent. Today, the impact is declining, perhaps because personalization has become so common; it now brings only about a 2 percent bump. Personalization can become a turnoff when it crosses the line into overfamiliarity, especially when the message comes from an unknown individual. (Note, however, that messages sent from a specific individual rather than a company name increase open rates by as much as 35 percent.) Skilled email marketing can build a relationship, but it’s important not to assume one that’s not there yet.

This post is now breaking its own rules about keeping things brief, so here’s one last reminder. Be thoughtful about your words and put in the time it takes to craft meaningful, useful messages.  All of this advice is likely very familiar. In the rush of everyday business and the pressure of keeping to an effective, steady cadence of contacts, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of sending your message or run out of things to say. Never forget: the message matters most.

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